• It’s the birth date of William O. Steele (1917–1979) The Perilous Road and Jarrett J. Krosoczka, the Lunch Lady series.
  • In 1864, Savannah, Georgia falls to General Sherman, concluding his March to the Sea during the American Civil War. Read Delivery Justice: W.W. Law and the Fight for Civil Rights by Jim Haskins, illustrated by Benny Andrews.
  • Ito Hirobumi, a samurai, became the first prime minister of Japan in 1885. Read Three Samurai Cats by Eric Kimmel, illustrated by Mordicai Gerstein, and Samurai by Jason Hightman.
  • Beatrix Potter died on this day in 1943. Her legacy lives on in the wonderful books she wrote and illustrated, including The Tale of Peter Rabbit and The Tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck.

Today is the birthday of Jerry Pinkney, illustrator extraordinaire who has created more than two hundred books for children since he entered the field. Born in Philadelphia, Jerry studied at the Philadelphia Museum College of Art and then moved to Boston for work. In 1964 he published his first children’s book, The Adventures of Spider. One of the few black illustrators in the industry at that time, even in his early books Jerry demonstrated superb artistic skills—great composition, pacing, vibrant line, and ability to delineate character. Because of this, he was offered many projects over the years, including the chance to add his artwork to classic books like Mildred Taylor’s Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry and Julius Lester’s The Tale of Uncle Remus. Lester and Pinkney became frequent collaborators. Usually Julius chose the subject matter, but for John Henry, one of Pinkney’s most brilliant picture books, Jerry had to convince his friend to write about John Henry, a childhood hero of Jerry’s. When Lester finally realized that he could show John Henry as a Martin Luther King Jr. figure, he agreed to create the text. Pinkney illustrated this spirited rendition of the folk hero’s life with panoramic landscapes and a John Henry so strong and vibrant that he comes off the pages.

Jerry also began collaborating on books with his talented wife Gloria, and together they provided the necessary artistic support for their son Brian to follow in Jerry’s footsteps. Over four decades, Jerry was awarded five Caldecott Honor Medals but he never won the main prize. For me, the happiest news in children’s books in 2010 came when Jerry finally moved from being a bridesmaid to becoming a bride—winning the Caldecott Medal for The Lion and the Mouse.

I first met Jerry in 1970. He was, in fact, the first living children’s book creator that I ever met, and I still have a vivid picture of him walking on Beacon Hill, carrying a portfolio of art to deliver to Little, Brown and Company publishers. Seeing Jerry and talking to him that day, I decided that children’s book authors had to be the nicest people on the planet. And Jerry is still just that, after all these years. His humor, modesty, and continual kindness inform everything he creates and does.

His long career in children’s books has provided great artistic satisfaction for him and a body of inspired titles for us. As he has written, his books have given him “the opportunity to use my imagination to draw, to paint, and to travel through the voices of the characters in the stories—and above all else, to touch children.”

Happy  birthday, Jerry. The children of this country are so much richer because you turned your hand to books for them.

Here’s a page from John Henry:



When John Henry was born…

The birds, bears, rabbits, and even a unicorn came to see him. He grew so fast, he burst right through the porch roof, and laughed so loud, he scared the sun!


Originally posted December 22, 2010. Updated for .

Tags: Award Winning, Caldecott, Folktale
Instructional materials from TeachingBooks.net for


  1. Anyone who loves Jerry Pinkney should try to get to the Norman Rockwell Museum where they are having the exhibit “Witness: The Art of Jerry Pinkney.” The exhibit ends May 30, 2011. I went with my daughter last Sunday, and seeing the original illustrations in their full size was a revelation.

  2. Suzanne says:

    Last week I led a workshop on mentor texts and introduced John Henry as my all-time favorite. I, too, was overjoyed when Jerry Pinkney FINALLY won the Caldecott! So deserved.

  3. Kim says:

    I was able to meet Mr. Pinkney and his wife at the UMass Children’s Literature conference along with Mr. Lester, a highlight for me.

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